The name London originally referred only to the once-walled "Square Mile" of the original Roman (and later medieval) city (confusingly called the "City of London" or just "The City"). Today, London has taken on a much larger meaning to include all of the vast central parts of the modern metropolis, with the city having absorbed numerous surrounding towns and villages over the centuries, including large portions of the surrounding "home counties", one of which - Middlesex - being completely consumed by the growing metropolis. The term Greater London embraces Central London together with all the outlying suburbs that lie in one continuous urban sprawl within the lower Thames valley. Though densely populated by New World standards, London retains large swathes of green parkland and open space, even within the city centre.
Greater London is all of the area surrounded by the M25 orbital motorway, and consists of 32 London Boroughs and the City of London that, together with the office of the Mayor of London, form the basis for London's local government. The Mayor of London is elected by London residents and should not be confused with the Lord Mayor of the City of London. The names of several boroughs, such as Westminster or Camden, are well-known, others less so, such as Wandsworth or Lewisham. This traveller's guide to London recognises cultural, functional and social districts of varying type and size:
BloomsburyVibrant historic district made famous by a group of turn-of-the-century writers and for being the location of the British Museum, the University of London and numerous historic homes, parks, and buildings. Part of the Borough of Camden. City of LondonThe City is where London originally developed within the Roman city walls and is a city in its own right, separate from the rest of London. It is now the most important financial centre in the world, but an area where modern skyscrapers stand next to medieval churches on ancient street layouts. Covent GardenOne of the main shopping and entertainment districts. Incorporates some of London's theatreland. Part of the City of Westminster and Borough of Camden. Holborn-ClerkenwellBuffer zone between London's West End and the City of London financial district, home to the Inns of Court Leicester SquareWest End district comprising Leicester Square, Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus and the centre of London's cinema and theatre land Mayfair-MaryleboneSome extremely well-heeled districts of west central London and most of the city's premier shopping street Paddington-Maida ValeLargely residential district of northwest central London with lots of mid-range accommodation, and close to the Eurostar terminal SohoDense concentration of highly fashionable restaurants, cafs, clubs and jazz bars, as well as London's gay village all mixed in with a cluster of sex shops and seedier adult entertainment venues. Soho is also home to many TV production facilities. South BankThe name South Bank is usually used to refer specifically to the complex around the National Theatre near Waterloo and the London Eye. The wider area South of the Thames, including Bankside (Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre) and up to Borough, was historically the location of the activities frowned on by the Puritans who exiled theatre, cock-fighting and bear fights from the original walled City of London to the south of the river. South Kensington-ChelseaAn extremely well-heeled inner London district with famous department stores, Hyde Park, many museums and the King's Road
CamdenA diverse area of north London that includes eclectic Camden Town East EndA traditional working class heartland of inner London to the east of The City, made famous by countless movies and TV shows, and home to trendy bars, art galleries and parks, especially in the Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Old Street area. GreenwichOn the pretty southern banks of the Thames; location of the Greenwich Meridian, Observatory, and the National Maritime Museum. HackneyHackney has become fashionable in recent decades and is home to a thriving arts scene as well as many trendy cafs, bars, and pubs. Hammersmith and FulhamBorough in west London with a diverse population and the home of the BBC, plus a hotbed for professional football. HampsteadLiterary north London and the wonderful open spaces of Hampstead Heath. IslingtonArea to the north of Clerkenwell that has undergone huge gentrification since 1990. LambethA diverse Caribbean-flavoured district to the south of the Thames, which includes the buzzing, bright-lights of Brixton. Southwark-LewishamInner southern districts of London; traditionally residential, with a large melting pot of communities. The area retains some leftfield, quirky attractions. You can find a restaurant from just about any ethnic group in the world. WandsworthGrand Thames-side areas and open green parks in the north, and dense housing in south.
WestTaking in much of the ancient English county of Middlesex (which many residents still identify with rather than "London") and former parts of Buckinghamshire. Heathrow Airport is located in this part of the city. NorthLargely made up of lush green upper middle-class/bourgeois suburbs, many of which were formerly part of the counties of Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire before being absorbed into Greater London. EastMostly originally part of the county of Essex, taking in former industrial areas on the upper Thames Estuary such as Beckton, Barking and Dagenham. To the North East lies the gateway to the affluent Epping Forest area. SouthContaining many commuter suburbs as well as densely packed housing, as well as the well known urban centres of Kingston-upon-Thames and Croydon WimbledonHome to the annual tennis Championships and wombling Wimbledon Common Richmond-KewLeafy Thames-side scenery, Hampton Court Palace, the botanical gardens and some major parklands